Four Key attributes of University Engineering Education Programs Engineering Education Programs are popping up at universities across the country. Purdue University created the School of Engineering Education (ENE), the world’s first such academic unit, in 2004. Since then, universities such as Virginia Tech and Utah State University have created engineering education programs, and other universities such as the University of Texas and Tufts have created STEM Education programs. The degrees offered from engineering education programs vary: some universities offer bachelor’s degrees or minors in engineering education, while some schools offer only graduate degrees. Programs can fall under the umbrella of different colleges of a university: engineering, education, or perhaps technology education. The pioneer, Purdue University, hosts the School of Engineering Education within the College of Engineering, demonstrating the commitment and priority the College places on improving the quality of education for its students.

With the current direction of education reform, and the national priority to improve STEM education, a focus on engineering education will become vital for universities in order to produce engineering graduates that meet industry needs, and educators equipped to teach the next generation of engineers.  As a Doctoral Candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue (2009-2014), and participant in the Engineering Education Community, I have made a few observations and summarized my thoughts into four key attributes for a university engineering education program.

First Year Engineering Program

First year engineering programs, like the one at Purdue University, “provide students with a firm foundation and initial understanding of engineering and career options to assist them in identifying which engineering discipline is the right fit.” First year engineering programs at Purdue are taught by the faculty, versed in messaging and research based engineering education pedagogy, from the School of Engineering Education. When you consider that most people have little to no understanding what engineering is and what engineers do[1], it can be very intimidating and difficult for a graduating high school student to select a degree/discipline from a field they know very little about. Most first year programs offer students the opportunity to explore the various disciplines of engineering offered as degrees at the hosting university through hands on design activities right from the start. This is different from historical models where students spend the first two years of their degree taking core classes and rarely experience design until they are in a lab during their junior/senior years. If our goal is to graduate more engineering students ready for industry, it is imperative to begin developing both their design and collaboration skills very early in their education, but also break down some of the barriers to entry so we can increase participation and decrease attrition. First year engineering programs get students thinking, designing, collaborating, and innovating out of the chute, so when they graduate they are more likely to be prepared for industry.

Engineering Degree with Teacher Certification

K-12 engineering education is a growing priority as states push schools to prepare students for college and careers, to ultimately feed into industry and thus bolster the economy. Thirty six states already have some form of engineering or design in their state standards[2], and the Next Generation Science Standards are inserting engineering practices to help students identify practical applications and relationships. Schools are – in most cases – interested and eager to offer some form of engineering at their school, but who is going to teach? There is a dearth of qualified K-12 educators to teach engineering, whether as a standalone course or engineering practices in the science class, and it is imperative that we begin training future K-12 engineering educators at University.  An ideal educator of K-12 engineering would have been trained as engineer (degree), practiced as an engineer (at least an internship), and versed in contemporary engineering education pedagogies. Offering an engineering degree with teacher certification would begin to meet the demand, and programs like UTeachEngineering  (University of Texas) are paving the way and being replicated in universities across the country.

Teaching Opportunities

Just as an industry internship is important for a future engineer, teaching opportunities for future secondary or university engineering educators are imperative. For K-12, this could be done through student teaching like in Schools of Education, but this should be paid work like an industry internship.  Another option for future K-12 engineering educators is teaching through outreach or in-service teacher professional development partnerships. In Texas, there are 7 T-STEM centers across the state that partner with universities, local education agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations to provide high quality STEM professional development and instructional materials to schools. Centers such as these would be excellent avenues for teachers in training. Graduate students who are interested in teaching at the community college or university level need teaching experience, and they should be allowed to partner with instructors of First Year Engineering and engineering foundation courses. The benefit to both K-12 and university institutions for these partnerships is the fresh approach and innovative ideas of a newly trained cohort of engineering educators.

Engineering Faculty & Departments Must Adapt

There is an entire body of existing engineering education research, and it must be availed and advanced to adequately inform and efficiently reform how we teach and what we teach. The American Society for Engineering Education was founded in 1893, and the Journal of Engineering Education (now released quarterly) has been around, in some form, since the same time.  Other sources of research are the International Journal of Engineering Education, the new Journal for Pre-Engineering Education Research, and scores of ASEE or any analogous group’s conference proceedings. Not to mention the research in science education is often transferable to engineering teaching!  Education is changing, and as educators, we must adapt and be the lifelong learners we are teaching our students to be in their own lives. This body of research should inform our efforts, and we should create a culture of reflective practitioners that constantly review and improve how we teach. Donald Schön writes[3]: “Through reflection, [a practitioner] can surface and criticize the tacit understandings that have grown up around the repetitive experiences of a specialized practice, and can make new sense of the situations of uncertainty or uniqueness which he may allow himself to experience.”  We must shift from being the “sage on the stage, to the guide on the side.”  We must take heed the principles Wiggins & McTighe[4] set forth in “Understanding By Design” and work backwards in how we develop curriculum – considering first what our students need to know. Then, we must align the content, assessment, and pedagogy together to produce quality curriculum and rich learning environments for our students. Finally and most importantly, we must train the other engineering faculty and create communities of practice that together influence change.

 

Engineers make a world of difference and help shape our future[5]. As engineering educators, we are responsible for teaching, training, and equipping the engineers that will be our future. Dedicated programs or Schools of Engineering Education demonstrate a commitment to lead in a movement whose mission is to create the best engineering designers, innovators, and collaborators of tomorrow.

Readers Chime In:

What attributes for a university engineering education program would you add to or take away from this list?

Other Notes

Think Purdue sounds like a great school? Well, I may be biased, but I certainly believe they are doing something right. As a matter of fact, they are launching some really cool new online engineering programs. Check those out here: https://purdueonlineengineering.com 

Acknowledgement:

Rod Wetterskog, an Assistant Dean of Engineering at UTD, asked me last week what I thought were the key components of a university engineering education program. These are my thoughts in response to his inquiry.

1. Cunningham, C., C. Lachapelle, and A. Lindgren-Streicher, Assessing elementary school students’ conceptions of engineering and technology. American Society of Engineering Education, Portland, OR, 2005.

2. Carr, R., L. Bennett IV, and J. Strobel, Engineering in the K-12 STEM Standards of the 50 U.S. States: An Analysis of Presence and Extent. Journal of Engineering Education, 2012. 101(3): p. 539-564.

3. Schön, D.A., The Reflective Practitioner:  How Professionals Think in Action. 1993, New York Basic Books. p 61.

4. Wiggins, G. and J. McTighe, Understanding by design. 2 ed. 2005, Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

5. Committee on Public Understanding of Engineering Messages, Changing the Conversation: Improving Public Understanding of Engineering. 2008, Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.

 

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